Moses-Columbia Indian Reservation, 1883


Sarsarpkin (Image credit:

A trip through the onetime “Moses Reservation” (Columbia Indian Reservation), Washington Territory, in July & August of 1883 turns up all the Chinuk Wawa we’d expect  from Salish people there and then (hayuuu)…

The document is “Explorations in the Upper Columbia Country” by (Lieutenant) Samuel Rodman, Jr. in The Overland Monthly of March 1886, pages 255-266. (Here is a tiny bit more about the expedition’s purpose.)

The first relevant extract suggests that the author’s company of soldiers knew little Chinook Jargon prior to embarking on this trip:

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After a hard pull out of the coulée by a very steep road, we traveled some twenty miles, and in the afternoon reached the mouth of Foster Creek, on the Columbia, about nine miles above the Okenagan River. Approaching the Columbia, the gentle swells of the prairie merge into a succession of sandy, rolling hills. When we had gained the divide, the river greeted our eyes — a welcome sight after the hot, dry ride.

Here we found the encampment of some troops, which had been ordered to this point in the early spring, on account of a rumored Indian outbreak, which never took place. A necessary delay kept us here some two weeks. We profited by this, and by the intercourse with Indians who daily brought meat and vegetables to sell, to pick up a good deal of the Chinook dialect spoken by all the red men of this country in their dealings with the whites… (page 256-257)

Giving travel information in Jargon:

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I asked my guide one day how far it was to a certain place; he looked at the sun, and pointing to a position to be occupied by it later on, said: “Sun yah-wa mi-ka klap o cook il a-he,” meaning, “When the sun is there, you will reach that place”; and his reckoning was correct, time and rate of travel being his basis of estimating distance. (page 257)

Here’s how you refer to the POTUS:

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Chief Moses, who, with two sub-chiefs, Sus-sopkin [Sarsarpkin] and Ten-as-ket [Tonasket], had been to Washington to confer with the hyas tyee, or “Great Chief,” as they call the President, about quitting his reservation, was making known the result to his people… (page 258)

As we so often see in English-language writing of the time, the Jargon word for ‘woman’ may represent local white people’s usage more than it does Chinuk Wawa:

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Abundant proof of its fertility was given when, a few miles farther up-stream, an old Indian clootchman (woman) brought us a bag of fine, large potatoes, which she had raised, and for which we gladly paid her a dollar. (page 259)

A couple of sentences of this pidgin can be extremely expressive:

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At this place we found two Indian girls, who had stopped by the stream to rest and water their ponies. One of these girls, an intelligent looking creature of about twenty years, answered my salutation, and told me she had lost some istas [ictas], what-nots of silks, ribbons, etc., which she had bought at the encampment of troops we had just left. She did not appear to be in the best of spirits, and upon being asked what was the matter, replied: “Nika hyas sick kopa latet, nika hyas pot-tle-lum kopa po-lak-lie — I am very sick in my head; I was very drunk last night.” (page 259)

A suspenseful situation is made more so by an ambiguously terse Jargon phrase:

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Just as we approached the first foot-hill, my guide suddenly cautioned me to keep very still, and pointing below, indicated to me a large black bear, which had come out from his day’s hiding place in search of food. Telling me to follow him slowly, Smitkin scrambled down the mountain side, while I, having come to a large rock, crouched behind it to await the bear or further developments. There was some doubt in my mind at first as to whether I had better remain here, not knowing exactly the characteristics of these animals, and especially when wounded. My guide, as he left me, had said, “hyu kwash” i.e., very much afraid; and I was in doubt as to whether he meant himself or the bear, as the Indians sometimes have queer superstitions about certain wild animals. (page 261)

This last word isn’t clearly Chinuk Wawa, although we’ve seen claims previously that it was used in the language; since I’m already familiar with kinnikkinnik, I admit I was more interested in what “box” and “cubebs” are:

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At this camp, our supply of tobacco gave out, but a substitute was obtained from the Indians in the dried leaves of ki-nick-a-nick — a weed with small leaves, resembling the well known box, with the taste of cubebs. (page 263)